Hotel housekeepers share their pandemic horror stories
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However, even though Christina Velasquez worked there for so many years, nothing prepared her for what she saw when she opened the door to a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hollywood.
As she stepped in, she was hit with what smelled like dead animals and the sight of blood on the bedsheets. Lots of blood. Also, maggots and hypodermic needles.
Velasquez told her manager about the story immediately. However, she was simply told to clean up the mess as fast as possible. There was no time to look into it. She was on a tight schedule.
“It was gross,” Velasquez said in Spanish. “I lost my appetite that day,” she told Los Angeles Times.
During the pandemic, things were particularly difficult for hotel housekeepers due to fewer workers. This increased the workload for those who were on duty, having to clean more cluttered rooms. Often, housekeepers had to clean bathroom walls smeared with faeces.
As stated by The Los Angeles Times and Academic studies and government labour, hotel housekeepers suffer one of the highest injury rates among service-industry workers.
Velasquez, 48, furthermore shared with The Los Angeles Times that after a long day of work, she goes home with an aching back and sore knees from moving heavy mattresses and furniture and kneeling to clean the floors.
Velasquez told Los Angeles Times that if guests were aware of how hard her job is, they wouldn’t leave such a mess.
Riley Wood, general manager at Aimbridge Hospitality, which manages the Hilton Garden Inn Los Angeles/Hollywood, declined to comment.
A spokesperson for Hilton Hotels & Resorts said the company offers guests the “choice and control over the level of housekeeping services they desire” because guests may have “varying levels of comfort with someone entering their rooms after they have checked in.”
Hotel industry representatives say the new housekeeping policies are meant to keep workers and guests safe and are preferred by guests.
“When it comes to room cleaning, hotels are following both guest preferences and the most recent CDC guidance for hotel employees,” the lodging association said in a statement, citing the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that “guestrooms occupied by the same customer over multiple days should not be cleaned daily, unless requested.”
The World Health Organization disagrees with the CDC recommendations, saying, “All programmes where guests can voluntarily forego housekeeping services should be suspended in the service of maximising health and safety of hotel staff and guests alike.”
The WHO policy suggests that guests and staff will be less at risk of infection if the rooms are regularly cleaned and disinfected by workers wearing gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment.
Workload: During a recent eight-hour work shift, Velasquez kept notes and took photos of her workload.
Her manager required her to clean 14 rooms that day. That includes changing the bedding, cleaning and disinfecting the bathroom, dusting, replacing soiled towels, vacuuming the carpeting and mopping the tile and hardwood floors. With a 30-minute break for lunch, that would give her only 32 minutes per room.
She began her shift at 8:32am. It took her 45 minutes to clean the first room. Piles of soiled towels littered the bathroom, and trash was strewn throughout the room, outside of the trash bins. She was already behind schedule.
The second room was much cleaner — no trash or towels on the floor — and she was able to complete it in 30 minutes. But by 10am, she had cleaned only two rooms.
Velasquez started the third room — also very cluttered and dirty — at 10:12am, and it took her until 11am to complete it.
It took her an hour to clean the fourth room. The most physically demanding part of the job was lifting the mattresses to replace the bedsheets and to vacuum under the bed, she said. Most days, she works alone.
By the time of her lunch break, she had cleaned only five of the 14 rooms she was assigned to complete. She was frustrated and tired. Velasquez said she had told her manager repeatedly that the rooms were too cluttered and dirty for her to meet the daily quota. Keep to the schedule, she was told.
“I go from room to room, and it’s the same,” she said of the workload.